“If you don’t like this film, then that says more about your taste,” is what director and writer Desiree Akhavan said as she introduced The Miseducation of Cameron Post at Wednesday night’s gala screening at London’s Picturehouse Central.
She’s got her tongue in her cheek, but still, being very British about things I prepare to mentally dissect it based on the overconfident claims. But by the time the credits roll, I am in full agreement. And I want to find her immediately to shake her hand.
The Miseducation of Cameron Post is a triumph and it’s no surprise it scooped the Grand Jury Prize at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival, marking Akhavan as one of the award’s few female winners.
An adaptation of Emily M Danforth’s 2012 novel, the film was shot in just 23 days on less than $1 million (to make a whole film, a tiny sum) but never once does it feel rushed or compromised and nothing is lost through the translation to screen.
Set in 1993, the story centres around a teenage Chloe Grace Moretz, Cameron Post, sent to a ‘conversion camp’ to “pray the gay away” after being caught by her boyfriend getting intimate with her prom queen lover.
At God’s Plan the teenagers are told they have the condition ‘SSA’, same sex attraction, and never to use the word homosexuality as it “doesn’t exist”. One of the camp’s leaders asks “would you hold parades for drug addicts?”.
The cure consists of living among other teens ‘suffering’ SSA and who are, mostly, working hard to overcome this through talking therapy, exercise (unintentionally hilarious ‘blessercise’ workout videos), and isolating themselves from the outside world. It’s left to the audience to decide how successful the treatment is.
Poignantly, there are no villains in the film, just people who have been misled and confused about their own identities, which makes it heartbreaking in terms of the adults characters as much as the kids.
Turning her back on blockbusters, Chloe Grace Moretz gives a mature, sensitive and considered performance as the lead.
The role could have leant towards melodrama, but Moretz avoids that and leaves me with nothing but a cliché to describe it – because this really is a career-defining performance.
Akhavan has called her own bisexuality the “final taboo” and has gone through treatment programmes for eating disorders which she says influenced the making of the film. “Cameron is a love letter to any woman I’ve ever been with”, she says.
She also conducted interviews with queer and gay teenagers, and the authenticity shines through the writing and execution. This is an important film and hopefully will serve the LGBT community for years to come. How often do you see portrayals of teenage sexuality full stop, let alone teenage homosexuality? How often do you see a lesbian lead character in a film? A film made and directed by a woman?
This will comfort teens and remind adults of what it’s like to be growing up in a world that doesn’t always feel like it understands you, and doesn’t always want to.
It captures what it is to be a teenager, to be told what’s right and wrong and to be expected to believe it, but questions what happens when you don’t.
It’s not long before Cameron sees through what is being fed to her and comes to realise that adults aren’t always right.
Seven hundred thousand people have been through conversion therapy in America and yet it’s rarely discussed – particularly so boldly and bravely as it is here.
A coming of age story about sexuality, first love, friendship and finding your place in the world, Cameron Post is refreshing and exactly what Hollywood needs to sit up and take notice of.
It’s impactful in both head and heart, and I haven’t felt so moved by a film for as long as I can remember. And I’m not alone. As the lights came up in the cinema, the audience couldn’t help but break into spontaneous applause.
Desiree says she wanted to “make a movie that you can’t help but hear about”. I hope she’s done exactly what she set out to do.